Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Out with the old, in with the (sort of) new {making changes in school}

A couple of weeks ago I had a rough few days.

Not that having rough days is anything spectacularly strange. Regular, more like.

I had a virus going through the house, with children dropping like flies, succumbing to a cough and a raised temperature. Wouldn't you know, but it hit the first "proper" week back to school (because every home school has a kind of "breaking it in gently" week first, right?... ).

The devil always seems to want to get in and pull me down whenever we come back from a break. I was armed and ready. I was expecting it. But, alas, my sleep deprived self didn't handle the attack very well.

I was feeling downright discouraged, and I had a morning filled with child "Ping pong" where I was going between one child and the next, trying to resolve issues in various subjects.

I wasn't quite ready to throw in the towel, but I was thinking "I can NOT go on like this - it will run me ragged".

So, I did what every self respecting homeschooling Mum does - I turned to valued friends and asked for help! I think, if nothing else, home educating teaches the parents a healthy dose of humility. Quite frankly, there's nothing so good as demonstrating that you do NOT have it all together, than to try teaching your children at home. It's less the content, and more the logistics. ESPECIALLY when you are a mum of many. Trust me. It's a leveller. Other parents are always willing to lend an ear, and give encouragement where they can. It's part of the job description. "Help and support your fellow mothers in the trenches". (Check the small print, if you didn't already's there, honest)

One of the things I was struggling with was grammar. Maths, they need to work at their own level. You can't do it any other way. Well, I certainly can't seem to. But, grammar. Could I be doing something different?

I loved the content of what we were doing, but with one child a slow reader, and needing me to read it ALL to them, and others just feeling it was hard work, I wondered if we could change it up.

To my surprise, one VERY experienced home ed Mum, who also teaches writing as a subject, said "You know you don't NEED to do grammar with younger children, right?" (Or words to that effect...)



I thought she had maybe lost the plot, but I remembered "in the multitude of counsellors there is wisdom".  Wisdom. That's the application of knowledge. Her knowledge of the subject said, no, you don't need to. And, I thought it sounded wise. And I needed to apply her knowledge. Wise.

However, I wasn't quite ready to take a complete leap in that direction. *hides*  I thought, rather, that we could go down the "one room schoolhouse route". Pitch lessons at a level they could all "get" and keep it simple.

I remembered that I had previously used a book called "Fix It! grammar", written by the wonderful Andrew Pudewa, and produced by the Institute of Excellence in Writing. (Having just checked out the link, I have an older version of this, but the same principles apply). The principle is simple. It works through classic literature texts, taking sentences, throwing in errors, and getting you to fix them. It's designed to be used by individual children, with them correcting it themselves, and rewriting it with the errors fixed. You also identify certain grammatical points, such as the subject and the verb in each sentence.

I figured it was something I could do with the children TOGETHER. I could write it on the white board, and they could "fix it".

All well and good if you can FIND the Teacher's Manual you need.


Searched high and low, I did.

Until I found it in a box, with all my other English materials, all just nicely collated together. Too organised for my own good, me.

*insert huge eye roll*

I also remembered a lovely book called "Daily Grams". This has a few short exercises for each day, again, perfect for the white board. It goes through all the grammar concepts, and gets the children to do simple exercises in identifying errors, or finding concepts in a sentence. It doesn't take long, but covers a great range of basic concepts.

Once I had it all found, I was ready to start.

And, wonder of WONDERS, the children are LOV-ING it!!!

They ask me EVERY DAY - "are we doing grammar yet?"

*jaw drop*

All three - 8, 9 and 11 - think it's SO MUCH FUN!  Yes, you heard right - FUN!

Do these children look miserable to you? No. They do not. No payment involved. No coercing. Just genuine straight up and down delight. 

We even stepped it up a notch today, and I got adventurous.

I ADDED some extra things into the lesson! 


 I know. CRA-ZEEEE.

We fixed our sentence, and then we found ways we could have written the sentence with more detail.

We had been learning about "-ly" adverbs, so we threw in a couple of those. Then we conjured up some fun adjectives to boot. 

Another thing we have been doing is listening out for grammar we have been learning about, whilst having our read aloud sessions. 

And can I tell you, C S Lewis uses a LOT of -ly adverbs. 

I regularly have children shouting them out, during my reading of "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", much to the annoyance of their eldest sibling. 

"Enough with the adverbs, guys...."

I think they've "got" that part of speech....

This is a sample page of the "Daily Grams", As you can see, there is not a lot, but it covers quite a range of topics in one short lesson.

One of my favourite parts of it all?

No paper. Not exercise books. Nada. Just me an' my white board.


Another joy is that it requires no writing from the children. It is absolutely possible to learn a LOT without having to produce screeds of writing. I would rather get them to write when they REALLY have to, and produce something wonderful, than have them write in EVERY SINGLE SUBJECT until they are sick of school. ESPECIALLY boys, in my experience, limited as it may be. Being able to identify grammar concepts requires eyes and a mouth, but not necessarily a pen and paper. I lie not! Save your battles for the really big things. This isn't one of them, in my opinion. 

(Just to add, lest you think me completely negligent, my friend said that when they hit High School, they will turn the grammar thing up a notch, and still grasp it wonderfully.)

All my changes were confirmed to me when I then read a SUPER article put together by Sarah McKenzie, from "The Read aloud Revival".  She wrote it in 2009, and it is an overview of Ruth Beechick's teaching ideas. Ruth Beechick is a super experienced and respected veteran home educator. She has done extensive research and is someone I respect. I haven't read all her books, but what I have read I have loved. 

If you don't read anything else for your homsechool year, read this. You can find it here. It made my heart LEAP! It confirmed what my wonderful fellow home ed Mums had suggested to me. It was a real word in season, and confirmation that my changes I was making were not as "way out" as I may have first thought! 

I will share more about Sarah's own book very soon. It's another "Must read".

How about you? Are you struggling through the mire of frustration because something you have always done isn't working any more? 

BE BRAVE! "New" is sometimes EXACTLY what you need. Maybe not even new curriculum, but a new way of doing it. I am using things I already HAD, but weren't what "fit" our way of doing things more recently. Now, they are just perfect.  Don't be afraid of change. It could be just what you need to reignite the fire of enthusiasm that you have lost in your homeschooling life. 

The same could be said about ANY part of your life. Routines and schedules come and go, and we need to be willing to bend and change according to the season we are in. It's ok to say "let's switch things around, and change things up". REALLY fine. "Not working" doesn't mean failure. It just means that you need to look at things a bit differently and try again. 

Change can be one of THE most freeing things you can do. Saying "no" to one way, and "hello" to another, can turn your frown upside down. 


Monday, 26 September 2016

When we only see our failings {He makes all things new}

As I sit at my laptop, after a another ridiculously long break from blogging, the words of one of my favourite characters in literature come jumping into my head.  Once again, as I try to shake off the guilt of not doing things as I would like to, these words leap out.

"Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"
Anne of Green Gables

I think it's fair to say that every mother has come to the end of a day and had that thought. Our days don't always go swimmingly. Anyone who suggests that staying at home to raise her children is the "easy option" has never done it. 

Days are HARD. We faces so many challenges and struggles on our journey. We have abundant blessings, but with blessings come hard times, too. 

I often feel I have failed, or at the very least I've not done a great job. It's a fairly frequent feeling, to be completely honest. 

But, then. 

Then, I am faced with a truth that my Dad reminded me of yesterday. The truth of the "new". 

We read in the Book of the Revelation

"Behold, I make all things new"

As much as this verse may well be singularly talking of the "new" of heaven, undoubtedly our life here on earth - our spiritual life - is all about the "new", too.

Our old life - our old "man" - was that of sinfulness, mistakes and erring. Following after our own ways, and stumbling along in darkness. 

When we found life in Christ, it was a NEW life! Old things were passed away and all things were new.  We had a joy, a delight, a pleasure in knowing that we had something new, and wonderful.

It's so easy to lose sight of that, though, isn't it?

We are still battling the old man - the flesh - and that's WHY our days often end with the "boy, I didn't do so well" mentality.  

Christ, however, is the author of the "all things new". That same joy we had when "first I saw the Lord", can be ours EVERY DAY.


Well, because when we run to Christ, confessing our sins, failings and struggles, His mercies come to us NEW. We come to Him, asking for a clean heart, and a right spirit to be given new to us, for a new day. We come, waiting upon Him, to have our strength given to us, new for the challenges of another day. 

Precious mother - don't look on those things you struggled with yesterday, or last week, or last month - or even just 5 minutes ago! Turn your eyes upwards, and look to the one who can give you that newness to face another day. He has promised us so many mercies to help us on our way - His love, His kindness, His strength, His peace, His faithfulness - so that this day can be conquered.

And yes, even if we feel we've messed up again, another day brings new mercies again. 

Our spirit must be that of humility, grace and determination, in order to fight on and win the victory against the things with which we struggle. 

We don't need to wait for heaven to have "all things new". It doesn't even need to be a new morning. We can breathe in that spiritual breath of life, and be renewed when we come to God in prayer, seeking His strength and mercy. "Forgetting those things that are behind", we can press on. 

Will you join me in looking to a life of a renewed spirit, and remembering that God's mercies are new every morning?